Bourbon for a bargain?

by Justin D'Olier on May 23, 2011 | Comments Off on Bourbon for a bargain? |

I am capable of performing numerous incredible feats – chugging a beer faster than anyone in the State of Hawaii, for instance – however, escaping Costco this Saturday without purchasing a liter of the brand new 103 proof Kirkland Signature Premium Small Batch Bourbon for $20.99 is not one of them.

Kirkland Bourbon

The Bourbon is better than the quality of the photo... but only slightly.

It was a perfect storm of targeted marketing. A new, cheap, small batch, high proof mystery bourbon? They couldn’t have singled me out more effectively without saying “Pefect for guys named Justin” on the sign. I had to have a bottle. It took all of my self-control not to take a swig in the check out line (that and the vague idea that chugging directly from a bottle of bourbon in Costco might not set the best example for my three year old), but I managed to wait until I got home, where I ran the bourbon through the gauntlet of my favorite whiskey cocktails.


The aromatics are very smooth, strong toasted oak with caramel and a hint of lemon peel. The flavor, however, lacks the suave subtlety of flavor. The high alcohol content (103 proof, 51.5% abv) jumps out of the glass and smacks your taste buds around, obscuring the caramel and molassses flavors. Unfortunately, the whiskey lacks sufficient body to back up the burly introduction. A little oak on the finish is more of a long walk down the hallway after a one night stand than a refreshing aftertaste. That’s not to dispairage a one night stand, but if you’re expecting a sultry evening curled up by the fireplace, you might want to sip something else.

(Adding a little cold water significantly softens the aggresive character.)

Old Fashioned (Bourbon, sugar, bitters, two muddled cherries)

The whiskey’s strength works well in an Old Fashioned. The drink unfolds over time, releasing more aromatics and softening the significant alcohol bite as the ice melts. The two muddled cherries – Keep that muddled orange peel out of my Old Fashioned! – provide a needed sweetness to the austere character of the whiskey. Pour one and drink slowly. The drink gets better over time like fine wine, MLB catchers, and Hugh Hefner.

Manhattan (Bourbon, sweet vermouth, bitters)

A Manhattan highlights the complexities and aromatics of a fine whiskey and gets out of the way. This bourbon needs a little something in the way, a metaphorical towel to cover the hairy, speedo clad man that is Kirkland Signature Premium Small Batch Bourbon. The bourbon lacks the requisite flavor (and subtlely) to shine in such a simple drink.

(A 1/4 teaspoon of grenadine – real pomegranate grenadine, not the neon sanguine Shirley Temple ingredient – provided a much needed sweetness and simultaenously muted the alcohol’s bite.)

In summary the bourbon is… fine. It’s a good value at $20.99 per liter, but it doesn’t deserve a place in your liquor cabinet next to Maker’s Mark or Woodford Reserve. It’s a bit of a purgatory beverage: Too good to sell by the handle in a plastic bottle, but not quite nice enough to fill up a julep cup. It’s certainly worth a try, especially for those who prefer the warming characteristics of a slightly higher alcohol spirit, but I’d rather save the $8 and buy a 750 of Jim Beam.

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